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'Washington Post' probes 2023 alleged assassination plot of Sikh separatist

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Last year, the Biden administration said it had thwarted an assassination attempt against an Indian activist living in the United States. Federal officials said they suspected India's government was involved, and they issued a warning to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration. A new report out today from the Washington Post provides the clearest evidence yet that the assassination plot came directly from New Delhi. The Post's Greg Miller has been reporting the story, and he joins me now from London. Good morning.

GREG MILLER: Good morning.

FADEL: So, Greg, this is quite a story, but just to step back for a moment, who is the activist that was the target of this assassination attempt last year?

MILLER: So the activist is a prominent member of the Sikh community. His name is Gurpatwant Pannun. He is a U.S. citizen. He works for an organization or with an organization Sikhs for Justice, and one of the things that it advocates for is a separate state for Sikh people in India. And he is - he was the main target of this assassination attempt in the United States last year.

FADEL: And is that why he was targeted? For that, I mean?

MILLER: Yeah. I mean, so, India sees him as an extremist/terrorist, somebody who is plotting to dismember the Indian state, even though there's really very little evidence that there is such a threat to the Indian government right now.

FADEL: Now, what links in your reporting did you find to the Indian government when it comes to this attempted assassination?

MILLER: So the Indian government obviously initially denied any connection to this, but our story not only shows that it was the Indian Intelligence Service, known as the Research and Analysis Wing, or RAW, but we were able to identify the specific officer in that intelligence service who was responsible for this operation, this assassination plot. We also reveal in our story that U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that members of Prime Minister Modi's inner circle had awareness of this plot and/or authorized it.

FADEL: And were you able to get any response from the Indian government about these findings?

MILLER: The Indian government did not respond to a lengthy list of questions that we submitted some time ago. We made repeated attempts to interview officials with the Indian government, including those we name in the story. But we were told that this is just too sensitive a subject for them. They refused to answer any of our questions.

FADEL: Now, this comes at a time that the Biden administration has been trying to strengthen its ties with India in order to counter some of China's influence pushback on it. What has the Biden administration said about these findings and this attempted assassination?

MILLER: Well, this has been a very difficult situation for the Biden administration, because as you said, the administration has spent three years trying to cultivate closer ties with India, largely as a partner and ally against the rising strength of China. And so the administration to date has done very little regarding India - no sanctions, no expulsions, no other punitive measures, all aimed at trying to keep that relationship going smoothly.

FADEL: Greg Miller is an investigative reporter with the Washington Post. He joined us from London. Greg, thanks.

MILLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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